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South China Sea on a Boil
Vietnam Builds Its Own Runway in South China Sea

Hanoi has been expanding a runway on the contested Spratly archipelago, the Financial Times reports:

Satellite images obtained by the Financial Times show that Vietnam has expanded the runway on Spratly from less than 2,500ft to about 3,300ft. The extension allows the deployment of maritime surveillance aircraft from Spratly for the first time, a move that comes as China builds up its own military facilities on and around nearby islands.

“This is a familiar pattern for Hanoi,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which supplied the images, taken during the past 22 months. “Vietnam continues to modernise its military and seek closer security ties with Japan, the US and India in preparation for future Chinese assertiveness in disputed waters.”

The Vietnamese government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The revelation comes as the US “pivot” to Asia faces severe strain following the election of Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine president, who has burnt bridges with Washington while moving toward rapprochement with China.

Given that we don’t even know who will be in his cabinet, it’s difficult to tell which direction President-elect Trump will want to go in Asia. The campaign trail rhetoric suggested that his preferences are for greater disengagement. These most recent developments in the South China Sea, coupled with yesterday’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have perhaps underlined for Trump that a pivot away may not be quite as easy as he may have hoped.

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